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date: 28 June 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter unites two key subfields in cognitive literary studies—the history of mind and the neuroscience of reading—to discuss a topic central to both: the nature of attention. The chapter describes an interdisciplinary experiment in neuroscience that emerged alongside literary historical research on the history of mind. The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technology for acquiring images of real-time neural activity, to explore the cognitive patterns that emerge when we read a literary work—here, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park—with different kinds of focus: close reading and pleasure reading. Discussing this study alongside distraction’s literary history allows the chapter to address two key methodological challenges in cognitive approaches to literature: (1) how to appreciate cultural-historical context more richly in scientifically informed literary scholarship; and (2) how to maintain ongoing reciprocity in the exchange between cognitive science and literary studies.

Keywords: Jane Austen, attention, distraction, fMRI, literary neuroscience, cognitive historicism, functional connectivity, cognitive science, close reading, pleasure reading

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